Pakistani “Sesame Street” = Multilateral Global Education

June 13, 2012
by Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager

Last week the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) terminated its funding for “Sim Sim Hamara,” a Pakistani version of “Sesame Street,” amidst corruption allegations (more here).

While the incident raises many issues, it offers another point of reflection for advocates of global education:  The amount of money the U.S. had committed to Pakistani “Sesame Street” is exactly the same amount it has committed the multilateral support of global education.

The U.S. had planned to spend $20 million on “Sim Sim Hamara,” an amount equivalent to what it pledged to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in November last year.

Originally established as the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative in 2002, the GPE is a partnership of developing country governments, multilateral agencies, civil society organizations, private sector foundations, and donor country governments.  It holds a unique—and important—position in the global education aid landscape as it is the only multilateral partnership devoted expressly to providing quality universal basic education to children worldwide. 

While its $20 million pledge to the GPE in 2011 was a welcomed step in the right direction considering it had contributed $0 to the fund since the partnership’s formation, the U.S. still lagged far behind other donor countries in its commitment to multilateral support of global education.  For example, the UK and Australia pledged $352 million and $278 million, respectively.  Even countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, whose GDPs are only 2-6% that of the U.S., stepped up and pledged $201 million and $167 million, respectively (more on GPE pledges here).

But even if this $20 million pledge to GPE is comparatively small, it can still be difficult to determine its real value, as most of us have never seen $20 million and have trouble visualizing its worth.  Although it’s less than other pledges, is it still a large sum of money?  Compared to other U.S. foreign assistance expenditures, is it actually a reasonable amount?

The Pakistani “Sesame Street” incident lends some perspective to these questions.  Unfortunately, the answer only confirms one’s suspicions: the $20 million pledge is relatively small compared with other pledges to GPE, and the GPE is indeed a low priority for U.S. foreign assistance.

As a taxpayer, does this reflect your priorities for U.S. foreign assistance?

Issues of the sometimes political role of development assistance aside, innovative educational programs such as “Sesame Street” and its global adaptations help children develop literacy and numeracy skills, learn healthy habits, and foster moral values.  Such programs are socially valuable and should be supported.

Nevertheless, one adaptation of “Sesame Street” in one country cannot compare in value to the development of quality education systems worldwide, so why has the U.S. ascribed equal value to both?

Increased support from the U.S. to the GPE would rectify this imbalance while working more sustainably towards creating a future in which all children benefit from healthy learning environments.

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